San Juan. How do I sum up this holiday in terms that people outside of Paraguay will understand? Pyromania, feast and dancing masks will have to do, but I don’t think I can write up anything that will describe it well enough.
OK, some background information. The holiday of San Juan comes from Catholicism and those pesky Spaniards and celebrates the saint day of John the Baptist on June 24th. Paraguay’s put their own spin on it though, so it seems to me to be more like a mix of carnival/halloween/thanksgiving than a holy day.
All in all, I had a great time spending time with my coworkers and students. We had some beautiful weather and raised a lot of money for the school. Pictures and my attempt at explaining more, below.
Pyromania: many things were set on fire. Soccer balls (that were kicked around), a bull’s skull attached to a cardboard body with children under it, two effigies of Judas, just ’cause everyone hates that guy.
Side note – I happen to have a candle of Judas (patron Saint of lost causes) in my house that I light every once in awhile. I’m not catholic, but it adds a little humor in my life.
Feast: we cooked SO MUCH FOOD. From 7am to 5pm and then more made to order at the festival from 6:30pm to 11pm. During San Juan, lots of people make typical Paraguayan food, and my school and many other schools turn it into a fundraiser. Think of a bake sale, but replace all the cupcakes with fried meat things. We made mbejú, empanadas, vori vori ryguasu, empanadas de mandioca, flan, payaguá mascada, chicharrón (fried pig skins). So much stuff. I’m probably forgetting stuff. It was so great to just spend the day cooking with my coworkers and joking around. I feel so much more comfortable at this school, it feels like an easy friendship more than work most of the time. Life is good!
Masks: kids dressed up in scary masks and danced on stage? I didn’t quite get this part. Later one, they tried to climb a greased up pole that was probably a good 35-40 feet tall (I’m not even kidding) to get to the money, chipa, and caña (liquor made from cane sugar that makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus the next day) tied to the top. They did this with nothing but boosts from their friends and a rope. Nuts! Even after being slightly OK with heights from rock climbing I still would never have tried to get up that. I really really hope that the caña went to an adult, but you can never be sure.